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The Millihelen

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It never looks warm or properly daytime
in black-and-white photographs the sheer cliff-
face of the ship still enveloped in its scaffolding
backside against the launching cradle
ladies lining the quay in their layered drapery
touching their gloves to their lips and just as
They That Go Down to the Sea in Ships rises
from choirboys’ mouths in wisps and snatches
and evil skitters off and looks askance
for now a switch is flicked at a distance
and the moment swollen with catgut-
about-to-snap with ice picks hawks’ wings
pine needles eggshells bursts and it starts
grandstand of iron palace of rivets starts
moving starts slippery-sliding down
slow as a snail at first in its viscous passage
taking on slither and speed gathering in
the Atlas-capable weight of its own momentum
tonnage of grease beneath to get it waterborne
tallow soft soap train oil a rendered whale
this last the only millihelen her beauty
slathered all over the slipway
faster than a boy with a ticket in his pocket
might run alongside it the bright sheet
of the Lough advancing faster than a tram
heavy chains and anchors kicking in
lest it outdoes itself straining up
to a riot of squeals and sparks lest it capsizes
before its beginning lest it drenches
the aldermen and the ship sits back in the sea
as though it were ordinary and wobbles
ever so slightly and then it and the sun-splashed
tilted hills the railings the pin-striped awning
in fact everything regains its equilibrium.

Source: Poetry (June 2016)

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This poem originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of Poetry magazine

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The Millihelen

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  • Sinéad Morrissey was born in Portadown, County Armagh, Northern Ireland, and raised in Belfast. She earned her BA and PhD at Trinity College Dublin. After years of traveling and teaching abroad, she currently lives in Belfast, where she was appointed the city's inaugural poet laureate in 2014.

    Morrissey is the author of five books of poetry: There Was Fire in Vancouver (1996), Between Here and There (2001), The State of the Prisons (2005), Through the Square Window (2009), and Parallax and Selected Poems (Carcanet 2013, UK; FSG 2015, US). Parallax won the TS Eliot prize and is nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award. In her review of Parallax in the Telegraph, Charolette Runcie wrote that the book, “is an ambitious and complex collection, which takes as its broad theme the distance between what we see and how things really are.”

    Morrissey has also received the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, the Irish Times Poetry Now Award, a Lannan Literary Fellowship, and first place in the 2007 UK National Poetry Competition. She teaches...

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